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UPDATED: Observation Fire 15 percent contained, new fire breaks out near Lincoln

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A helicopter carries a bucket of water to drop on the Observation fire on Tuesday afternoon. The wildfire is burning in steep terrain west of Lost Horse Observation Point near Hamilton.

There wasn’t a lot of activity on the Observation Fire southwest of Hamilton on Sunday night, although the blaze is still only 15 percent contained.

The lightning-caused fire grew from 1,294 acres in size to 1,385 acres as of Monday afternoon, based on an infrared overnight monitoring flight. The fire is burning in rocky and steep terrain in the Bitterroot National Forest.

“We are continuing to have good success on the southeast corner of the fire,” said U.S. Forest Service public information officer Ann Rys-Sikork. “The fire is basically in a northwest orientation parallel with Highway 93, and the east flank is pretty secure. We’ve put a lot of effort in preventing the fire from rolling down into the valley. The fire’s energy is trying to break out in the north where there is more timber. That’s where the action is.”

Rys-Sikork said the fire is spotty rather than being a big wall of flame.

“It’s a messy fire,” she said. “It’s spotty because it’s windy. There is lots of unburned fuel in between the spots.”

There are currently 526 people working on the fire, including a Type 1 Incident Management Team, eight aircraft, 21 engines, 15 bulldozers and seven water tenders. A Stage 1 evacuation warning is in effect for 203 residences. The Lost Horse drainage from the junction of Lost Horse Creek Road and Lick Creek Road west to the Idaho border is closed. Lake Como is open.

“It’s a big airshow,” Rys-Sikork said. “And that adds to the cost of the fire. Air operations are expensive but there’s really no way to get crews in. We did have a Libby helitack crew saw out a helispot and a safety zone and tomorrow they’re going to drop in some hotshot crews to match up with the east side. They’re trying to move up and pinch it off. But it’s challenging.”

Rys-Sikork said that the fire is calm in the morning, active in the afternoons and only increasing in size by about 50-70 acres per day.

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Meanwhile, a new fire broke out Monday afternoon northeast of Lincoln.

Officials said it was near the Elk Trail landing strip, estimating its size at 10 acres late Monday afternoon, and ordered evacuations as a precaution.

Firefighters from Lincoln and the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation have been working to extinguish the blaze. According to the DNRC, four helicopters, an air tanker, a 20-person hand crew, and fire engines from multiple agencies were on the scene.

DNRC officials requested that residents and travelers keep clear of the Copper Creek area up to the intersection with Highway 200.

Tom Kopacz contributed to this story.

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